BUBO in CORSICA - part 5
Despite our concerns about a rather wet day, we woke up on Wednesday to bright sunshine. Our plan was to do some lowland birding along the closest bit of coast to where we were staying. This included the town of Aleria, the coastal plains and the numerous lagoons along this stretch. We didn't really have any specific targets, we just planned to mosey around the area, although I was hoping to see some Rock Sparrows which are meant to live in old farm buildings around abouts.
As we drove into Aleria we saw our first Great White Egret of the trip along the river, and we continued on to Aghione Fields where we had quite a few birds the previous evening, to see if it was as good today. It didn't seem so, but that may have been due to disturbance since the farmers were making use of the cool early morning to water their crops and work in the fields. We had another couple of Fan-tailed Warblers but it was mainly the common species present that we'd seen yesterday. We had another decent search for California Quail but it was to no avail. There were quite a few raptors around including Red Kite and Marsh Harrier, and we had our first decent look at a local Buzzard. These are of an endemic island sub-species arrigonii (Corsica and Sardinia) which is meant to be a smaller and darker bird than the nominate. The photo below does indeed show a browner overall tinge to the pale areas of the plumage.
After a short while checking the fields we headed towards the coast and visited the largest of the saltwater lagoons called Etang d'Urbino. We followed what seemed to be the only available road towards the water which led out along the central promontory, to a lovely little collection of fisherman's huts and jetties, and a seafood restaurant sitting out on stilts over the water. These Corsican lagoons are famous for mussels and we spent quite a while around here enjoying the pleasant surroundings and sank a cold drink (although we were not allowed to have any breakfast!).
For the first time on the trip we were able to look at some waterbirds of Corsica. Out on the lagoon we 'scoped up about ten Great Crested Grebes, and watched a few Common Terns fishing. Way out in the distance there were a few egrets along an island's edge, including a Great White Egret or two. The gulls scavenging around the jetties were Yellow-legged Gulls, and a very close Red Kite was probably doing likewise. A single Black-necked Grebe was found out in the middle of the lake but, with no shallow edges to this etang, there was not a great deal extra to be seen. Apart from plenty of Italian Sparrows, the only notable passerines were a Corn Bunting singing from the field behind and a showy male Sardinian Warbler in an overgrown garden. There were lots of lizards feeding amongst the boats in the yard and these were clearly different from the ones we had in the mountains. These were bulkier and less spotty and we worked out that they were Italian Wall Lizards.
We drove back up the road and found a viewpoint which overlooked a shallower arm of the lagoon, albeit rather distant below us, at the bottom of a hill. We could see straight away that there were many more birds here, but with the distance and the shimmer of a heat haze, it was difficult to identify many of the birds present. One species that wasn't difficult to identify was the group of 8 Greater Flamingos striding around in the shallows. I had not seen any (wild) flamingos for ages and so I was very pleased. This reed-fringed corner of the lagoon also held a few Grey Herons and Great White Egrets, plus a single Spoonbill. There was a selection of waders pottering around along the muddy edge, but many of these were impossible to identify. We did pick out about ten Greenshanks, a Lapwing and a Wood Sandpiper, as well as a group of about 20 Ruff flying about. The field between us and the lagoon was severely fenced off so, unfortunately, that's all we came away with.
Alongside the small road leading away from the lagoon we passed a small flock of sheep feeding in a pasture with many Spotless Starlings catching the flies around their feet. This gave us an opportunity to have a good look at them for the first time and also gave us a comparison with Common Starling as there were three late lingering wintering birds present. There was also a Yellow Wagtail feeding in the grass which appeared to be a Blue-headed raced bird.
Still thinking about Rock Sparrows, we paid a visit to the old fort overlooking Aleria as it looked ideal for this species. There were lots of sparrows nesting in the holes in the building but unfortunately they were all Italian Sparrows. It was interesting to see the variation in the males - some having a more restricted House Sparrow-like bib whilst others having a blacker, more extensive bib surrounded by dark chevrons. The fort was perched high up on a hill giving great views across the plains.
There was a café by the fort, right on the edge of the hill, with a terrific view across the plain and we decided to stop there as we all needed a crepe. It was a great decision since we soon noticed that the local Red Kite was giving tremendously close views as it hung in the breeze right next to the balcony. We took lots of photos whilst waiting for our food to arrive which, as seems typical in these parts, took an absolute age! However, we did not mind the delay this time, as the raptors were superb. We also saw a Black Kite which suddenly appeared with the Red, perhaps on migration, as well as both Buzzard and Marsh Harrier further off. A Kestrel and a Hobby were noted circling over the rooftops below and a Sparrowhawk whizzed past at speed at a low level. The local Sparrowhawks are another endemic subspecies, wolterstorffi, which is apparently very small and dark. We had a final search for Rock Sparrow but again there was no sign but we did see our first Chiffchaff in a garden. We left the fort to further explore the etangs and plains in the afternoon.